Thursday, December 20, 2012

Florida: Paddling Adventure at Weeki Wachee

Two kayaks run into a bar....
   First thing to know about Paddling Adventures at Weeki Wachee; though they list their hours as 8 AM to 3 PM, you should look further down the webpage.  Below those first hours is a note: if you are renting their boats OR plan to use their shuttle you need to launch by 11:30AM.

  Unfortunately we learned this the hard way, Sunday at 1 PM.  On the plus side we got to see all sorts of kayaks being unloaded from their shuttle service.  Lots of fine looking kayaks take the Weeki Wachee express on the weekends.

  The Weeki Wachee River would be a fun place to bring beginning paddlers.  The water moves swiftly and easily carries the boats along.  Summer is their busiest season, when all 120 boats in their rental fleet will be in the stream.  There is no swimming in the first half mile after the launch.  I get the impression that after that first half mile many people use their kayaks as float toys for a four mile ride.  For the last mile, or so, depending on the tide, they may actually need to paddle. 

Which leads to tip two:  you might want to call ahead for reservations.
Midway, showing the current better
  Paddling Adventures offers canoes, sit on tops and sit insides.  We were given Old Town Vapors which were comfortable enough.  The front deck was a bit high, and my boat had a slow leak (the keel line showed many patches), but for a glide on a river, they were fine.
Sponging out the kayak
The Weeki Wachee river has the beautiful clear blue water Florida springs are known for.  The water was partially shaded by tall trees, though there were also sections of marsh grass.  It also has a plant which looked like a water lettuce growing off to the side.  I saw this particularly near the start, where the water was quite fast-moving. I assumed I'd see more of it later, when the water was slower and the pictures would therefore be in focus.  In fact, I thought I'd see manatees chowing down on this water lettuce and get amazing shots.
Blue heron
  Turns out I didn't see the plant further down.  Also, manatees eat mostly sea grass, though they will eat random plants in their environment and even small invertebrates.  (I swear - at the Homosassas Spring State Wildlife Park the manatees are fed lettuce)  Finally, if it was water lettuce, Florida considers it an invasive weed plant.
Manatees hanging out in a pool
  We did see a couple of manatee hanging out further down stream, lounging off to the side.  By then, the forest lined stream had given way to houses and cottages. 
A cool house below Rogers Park
   We launched at 9:30AM.  It's five and a half miles to the pick up point, and wasn't quite warm enough for swimming. So we arrived at the end point, Rogers Park, well before the first return shuttle was scheduled (noon). Wanting to explore more so we continued on through the development until we happened on coastal marsh.  We were still a mile or so from the gulf, but making it to the grass and palm tree eco-system felt like a good accomplishment.
Coming into the marsh area
   Along our trip we met a few other paddles, all heading up from Rogers Park, four paddlers in wood strip canoes and one paddler in an nckayak.  We'd seen the nckayaker early on, charging up the Weeki Wachee.  And shortly after we returned to Rogers Park to await our shuttle, he paddled in. He'd paddled 11 miles that morning.  Mark helped him load his sparkling green kayak onto his car and they compared break-apart Greenland paddles.  Rogers Park is a very bland park; a dusty lot with a small swimming area, boat launch and restrooms.  However, paddling up the Weeki Wachee River and gliding back down seems like a great way to start any day.
A canoe heading up stream
Kind of a chart with two happy paddlers in front

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